2021 is the Year of the Ox, or Cow—or indeed Ushi as cattle are known in Japanese.
Until as recently as the mid-nineteenth century, cows in Japan were used mainly to plough fields or to transport goods and people. The animals were not numerous, and neither their meat nor their milk was consumed. Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, foreign cows were introduced to Japan and dairy farming began. Cross-breeding of native Japanese cattle soon followed, albeit briefly, creating the distinctive wagyu cattle breeds the marbled-meat-loving world knows today: Japanese Black, Japanese Polled, Japanese Brown and Japanese Shorthorn. The two purely “Japanese” cow breeds, descendants of those animals which migrated to Japan from China via the Korean peninsula in around the second century, remain only in very small numbers on the islands of Kuchinoshima and Mishima, after which faraway places they take their respective names.
The statue of the ox pictured here is on the grounds of Yushima Tenmangu in Tokyo. Statues of oxen can be found at most of the many Tenmangu shrines across Japan, for reasons explained here. Shrine visitors studiously rub the bovine on the head (for good luck in exams) or whatever other part of its body ails them. This being the Year of the Ox—and the Metal Ox at that—the statues can look forward to a thoroughly good polishing over the months to come.